BISMARCK, N.D. – David Monson began pushing the idea of growing industrial hemp in the United States a decade ago. Now his goal may be within reach — but first he needs to be fingerprinted.
Monson turned in an application Monday to the state Agriculture Department to become the nation's first licensed industrial hemp farmer. State Agriculture Commissioner Roger Johnson said Monson provided fingerprints with his application, which will be used for a background check to prove he is not a criminal.
The farmer, school superintendent and state legislator would like to start by growing 10 acres of the crop, and he spent part of his weekend staking out the field he wants to use.
"I'm starting to see that we maybe have a chance," Monson said. "For a while, it was getting really depressing."
Last month, the state Agriculture Department finished its work on rules farmers may use to grow industrial hemp, a cousin of marijuana that does not have the drug's hallucinogenic properties. The sturdy, fibrous plant is used to make an assortment of products, ranging from paper, rope and lotions to car panels, carpet backing and animal bedding.
Applicants must provide latitude and longitude coordinates for their proposed hemp fields, furnish fingerprints and pay at least $202 in fees, including $37 to cover the cost of criminal record checks.
Johnson said the federal Drug Enforcement Administration still must give its permission before Monson, or anyone else, may grow industrial hemp.
"That is going to be a major hurdle," Johnson said.
Another impediment is the DEA's annual registration fee of $2,293, which is nonrefundable even if the agency does not grant permission to grow industrial hemp. Processing the paperwork for Monson's license should take about a month, Johnson said.
A DEA spokesman has said North Dakota applications to grow industrial hemp will be reviewed, and Johnson said North Dakota's rules were developed with the agency's concerns in mind. Law enforcement officials fear industrial hemp can shield illicit marijuana, although hemp supporters say the concern is unfounded.
North Dakota is one of seven states that have authorized industrial hemp farming. The others are Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Montana and West Virginia, according to Vote Hemp, an industrial hemp advocacy organization based in Bedford, Mass.
California lawmakers approved legislation last year that set out rules for industrial hemp production, but Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed it. The law asserted that the federal government lacked authority to regulate industrial hemp as a drug.
In 2005, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, introduced legislation to exclude industrial hemp from the definition of marijuana in federal drug laws. It never came to a vote.
Monson farms near Osnabrock, a Cavalier County community in North Dakota's northeastern corner. He is the assistant Republican majority leader in the North Dakota House and is the school superintendent in Edinburg, which has about 140 students in grades kindergarten through 12.
In 1997, during his second session in the Legislature, Monson successfully pushed a bill to require North Dakota State University to study industrial hemp as an alternative crop for the state's farmers.
Canada made it legal for farmers to grow the crop in March 1998. Last year, Canadian farmers planted 48,060 acres of hemp, government statistics say. Manitoba and Saskatchewan, the provinces along North Dakota's northern border, were Canada's biggest hemp producers.
"I do know that industrial hemp grows really well 20 miles north of me," Monson said. "I don't see any reason why that wouldn't be a major crop for me, if this could go through."